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Communication @ Pixabay
Communication @ Pixabay

Portuguese in Brazil vs. in Portugal: 10 Language Differences

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 6 June 2017

If you don’t understand a syllable of Portuguese, there may be little to no chance that you’ll pick up on the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese. Anyone with a basic understanding of either language, on the other hand, may notice a distinction right away, similar to the differences between American and British English. Here are a few of the major differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese.

When Portuguese citizens settled in Brazil, the Portuguese language was spoken in conjunction with Tupinambá, the language of the native Brazilians. As time passed and more immigrants settled in the South American country, Brazilian Portuguese transformed and became the language that’s spoken there today.

Tu and Voce

Using formal and informal speech is one bump that can trip a European Portuguese in Brazil or a Brazilian in Portugal. Take the word “you” for example. When spoken informally in Portugal (to a friend, sibling, or peer), the word “tu” is used. “Voce” is the word to use when addressing an elder, a stranger, or someone in the work environment, especially a supervisor. In Brazil, on the other hand, the word “voce” is used informally and sometimes in formal situations. When Brazilians want to sound extra formal, they address the person they are speaking to with “Senhor” or “Senhora,” meaning “Sir” or “Ms.” Confusing “tu” and “voce” can peg someone as a foreigner, silly, or even rude.

Accents

Even if your Portuguese isn’t very strong, and at best you can pick up a word or two, the accent may hint that someone is Brazilian or Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese flows from the tongue like music while European Portuguese can be a bit soft or mumbled. In some cases, sounds in European Portuguese have been compared to those in the Russian language.

Mouth open vs mouth closed

One of the reasons why the accents are so different may be due to how speakers use their mouths. In general, Brazilians speak with their mouths more open, while the European Portuguese speak with their mouths a little more closed.

Gerund verbs

When expressing a verb in motion (running, talking, driving), Brazilian Portuguese speakers have their version of -ing, which is -ndo. For example, when saying “I’m running” a Brazilian will say “Estou correndo.” The word for run is “correr” and a Brazilian will drop the last “r” and append the “ndo” to change the word from run to running. On the other hand, European Portuguese don’t use -ndo. When saying “I’m running” a Portuguese person will say “Estou a correr”.

Are you shushing me?

European Portuguese speakers sound a lot like they are shushing when pronouncing the letter “s” at the end of a word. Brazilians pronounce their “s” sounds the way English speakers do when saying the word “sound” or “saying”. There are some exceptions to the rule on both sides, however.

Portuguese pronounce their Ts.

While European Portuguese speakers don’t usually pronounce their “s” sounds, they do pronounce their “t” sounds like an English speaker does when saying “Tom.” A Brazilian speaker usually pronounces their “t” like “ch.” The word milk in Portuguese is “leite” and a Portuguese speaker will say the word phonetically, while a Brazilian speaker will say it like “leiche” even though the word is spelled the same in both languages.

Spelling

Some words are spelled the same, like milk, while others are spelled differently, and the difference can be as slight as the addition of a single letter or a different suffix. For example, when describing something as small or cute, European Portuguese speakers add -ita at the end of the noun. Brazilians add -inha at the end of their nouns when denoting a small size or cute nature. When trying to describe Nina as cute, a European Portuguese speaker may call her Ninita while a Brazilian may call her Nininha.

Vocabulary differences

At the end of the day, Portugal and Brazil are two completely different countries, and as such they sometimes use different words when mentioning the same thing. Take the word “bus” for instance. In Portugal, ask for the bus using the word “autocarro,” but when in Brazil, ask for the bus using the word “ônibus.”

Slang

Slang pops up in each country and even in different regions within the same country, so there shouldn’t be any surprises that Brazilians and Portuguese have their own different slang words.

Are you speaking to me (in the third person)?

Remember the formal and informal speech differences mentioned? Sometimes, when trying to be a bit more polite, European Portuguese speakers will ask someone a question addressing them in the third person. For instance, someone would ask Nina if she wants more food by saying, “Does Nina want more food?” or “Nina quer mais comida?” Brazilians will stick to calling someone “voce” or “Senhor/a.”